Film Archive for November, 2010

Review: The Lottery

The Lottery, one of 15 films on the Oscar shortlist for documentaries, is one of the most frustrating and infuriating films I’ve seen this year. The film is about Harlem Success Academy, although philosophically it addresses ideas around charter schools generally; it tracks four Harlem families as they anxiously wait to see whether their kids’ names get drawn for the few available kindergarten slots at HSA for the coming school year.
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Things to Be Thankful For

We’re getting an early start to the long holiday weekend around here; Seattle got nailed by an early snow storm, which gave the kids a couple snow days tacked onto the Thanksgiving weekend. So we’ve got the unexpected bonus of a six-day holiday weekend around here, and spirits are high. I hear that Angelina Jolie hates Thanksgiving and doesn’t want to perpetuate celebrating an anniversary of murder, and to that I say, well, good for her, and I guess can see her point.

But for me, Thanksgiving has always been not about the past and Pilgrims and Native Americans, but about the present and the future; it’s a time to take a pause from the hectic pace of life and reflect on the many blessings we have in our lives. Around here, we try to focus with our kids on helping them to be aware of how fortunate we are to have a nice home to live in, plenty of food to eat, warm clothes to wear, jobs that provide the money to support our family. And, of course, to be aware that others are not so blessed, and to make room in our hearts and our budgets to give to those who need a little boost to help them out.

Thanksgiving for me is also about getting mentally geared up for the upcoming Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa season, when we should be as mindful (or more) of giving as well as receiving. This is absolutely my favorite time of the year, and this year in particular my heart feels very full.

I’m very thankful this year for my own good health, and for healthy, happy, well-adjusted kids and a new marriage. I’m immensely thankful to still be employed in a tight economy, and to be able to write and edit for a living when there are many other crappy jobs I could be doing just to make ends meet. I’m thankful for amicable relationships with ex-spouses that allow us to have a crazy, loving, blended extended family where everyone gets along most of the time.

We will be having lots of family time this holiday weekend. In between marathon sledding sessions, warming up with hot cocoa and popcorn by a cozy fire, and delightfully raucous games of Munchkin and Zombie and Chthulu Dice with six kids and two game-geeky grownups, I have big plans this weekend to snuggle up under warm covers and work my way through the stack of screeners beckoning from the foot of the bed.

The screener fairy has been making daily stops by our house, so in between holiday activities and cooking and playing, I’m planning to watch Restrepo, The Kids Are All Right, Road to Nowhere, The Lottery, Somewhere, The American, The Town, Greenberg and Babies. I’m even going to take a second look at Hereafter, and we have both Inception and HP 7.1 to watch again (really loved that movie, though I will enjoy more watching it together with 7.2 after it comes out … I think the pacing will play out better that way).

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the awards-season movies What do you love? What do you hate? Who’s getting overlooked? Who’s overrated? What do you think about this new docs category at Sundance? Are you fine-tuning your own Top Ten list? Do you care about Oscars and Golden Globes and BAFTAs (oh my)?

Happiest of holidays to you and yours. I hope you enjoy your time with friends and family, as I plan to. But if you need a break from hearing Aunt Ethyl’s stories for the 89,000th time, drop on by and let’s chat about movies too. As for me, I have a few more films I need to see yet in addition to the screeners I have here before I can narrow down my own top ten and gear up for voting with my critics’ groups. True Grit, Rabbit Hole and The Fighter are the big ones I have yet to see before I can hone things down seriously. There is much movie-watching to squeeze in around holiday stuff, but this is such a wonderful time of year, I don’t even mind how hectic it gets.

Happy holidays to all, and I’ll see you after Thanksgiving!

Just in Time for the Holidays in Seattle: Heaps of Movie Magic

Holy cow, do we have a lot of awesomeness coming up at SIFF Cinema, which is one of the very best reasons to live in in Seattle. I was just perusing a list of upcoming screenings and events, and here are some of the highlights, my fellow cinephile Seattleites (or non-Seattle friends who’d like to pop up here for a weekend of fun):

SIFF Cinema has your Willy Wonka Smell-o-vision Action coming your way. Plus? The Labyrinth Quote-Along, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: an audience participation version of one of my favorite movies ever. You’ve got your goblins, you’ve your David Bowie as the Goblin King in tight-tight pants and huge hair, you’ve got subtitles for quotable moments, and lyrics to all the songs, all the better for you to get your Labyrinth audience-participation action on. I know some Seattle film writers I’d love to see cosplaying the Goblin King, too. You know who you are.

My teenager is hot to see Kuroneko (and can I just brag that she knew that translated to “Black Cat” before I read that bit to her … all that manga and anime is paying off!). Demons, samurai, and revenge melodrama. Oh yes, bring it on.

Perhaps the most intriguing event slated (for me anyhow) is the dual screening of The Wizard of Oz/The Dark Side of Oz. The former is exactly what it sounds like, but the latter? A merger of the film The Wizard of Oz paired with Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. What?! Sounds trippy and fascinating … I never knew there were connections between the two in lyrics, song titles, even the timing of the music. Intrigued to check this one out.

In February we have a ton of sci-fi/action coming our way. Escape from New York paired with Dark City; Forbidden Planet, followed by a double feature of Serenity and Starship Troopers; Time Bandits paired with Galaxy Quest; and a Spaceballs Quote-Along.

That’s about more movie fun than you can shake a stick at. Between SIFF Cinema, NW Film Forum, our amazing film festival, our seven Landmark theaters, Scarecrow Video, grey and rainy days that encourage movie-watching and, of course, the best coffee you will find anywhere (sorry, Stumptown in Portland, you did not measure up to my beloved Vivace), Seattle is cinephile heaven.

Man, do I love this town.

I Can Be Your Hero, Baby

I was checking up on the weather forecast and school closings this morning, and this story about real-life superheros in Seattle caught my eye. Apparently the Seattle group, which calls itself the Rain City Movement, is part of the larger national group “Real Life Superheroes.”

With films like Kick-Ass and Super, which depict average people deciding to become superheroes, and the popularity of the superhero genre generally, I guess it’s not really surprising that normal folks would decide to become crime-fighter/vigilantes, though I’m not sure how smart an idea it is for your average person with a flashlight and mace to be going up against criminals armed with guns and knives.

One of the things I liked about Kick-Ass is its fairly realistic portrayal of what can happen in a situation like that. Kick-Ass gets his ass kicked. Even the seemingly invincible Big Daddy and Hit Girl find they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Reality meets fantasy and smacks it around, hard.

On the other hand, I can understand the desire of people to feel like they’re doing something to take back their streets and neighborhoods from criminals. The police aren’t always effective, and I suppose it can feel empowering to be a vigilante fighting crime and making the streets safer … until you get shot or stabbed. Myself, I think I’ll keep my own costume-wearing tendencies safely confined to cons. But what about you? Would you ever consider being a Real Life Superhero? And what would your superhero be?

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Why You Should Go See Made in Dagenham

Dear readers,

I am taking time out from my honeymoon to bring you this important message:

If you live in a city where Made in Dagenham is getting released this weekend, I’d like to take a moment to encourage you to go see it. Yes, yes, by all means, go see Harry Potter 7.1 first. I know you’ve been dying to see that, I was too.

But then, make the time to get out to support this little Brit film. I reviewed it from Toronto (you can see my full review over here) and liked it a lot. It tells a great story about a little known strike by female factory workers in blue-collar England at the dawn of the feminist movement. It’s fun, it’s a nice femme-themed movie that DOESN’T center around women talking about nothing but men and sex and fashion, and it stars Sally Hawkins and Miranda Richardson in a couple of great performances. AND it has Bob Hoskins. Jeepers, what more do you want?

I’ve read a couple of luke-warmish reviews criticizing some of the characters for being one-dimensional representations, which I actually don’t completely disagree with when it comes to a couple of the supporting characters, but on the balance the performances by Hawkins and Richardson in particular more than made up for that for me. And further, I liked that while it’s a “strong women” film, it’s more about these women who’d always accepted their place as being beneath the men realizing that was wrong, and finding the courage to stand up for what they believed in, and the film conveys this without making all the men out to be complete assholes.

There are several men in the film (Hoskins among them) who are supportive of the women, and even though some of the husbands are shown as going through a period of growing weary of the effect of the women’s strike on their own jobs and their households, they are not uniformly painted as “look, aren’t all men jerks?” but rather as people with flaws, most of whom ultimately come to support the women’s cause in spite of it going against everything they were raised to believe.

So I urge you, give this little film a chance, go out and support it, take your teenage or pre-teen daughters or nieces or granddaughters (and their brothers, too!) to see it. Because we cannot and should not forget all the women who bravely paved the way for where we are now — nor should we forget that even now, the Republicans are fighting President Obama tooth and nail on the issue of equal pay.

So please, go see Made in Dagenham, and judge it for yourself. I promise you, I would not take time out from my brief honeymooon weekend to say this if I didn’t really believe in this little film. It needs your support. Thanks.

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One

SPOILER WARNING: There are minor spoilers in this review for the Harry Potter series, though not, I don’t think, for the particular film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One. Nonetheless, if you’ve never gotten around to reading the Harry Potter books or seeing the prior movies and still, for some reason, want to see this one unspoiled, you’ve been duly forewarned.

Of all the directors who have tackled bringing to life J.K. Rowling’s incredibly popular book series about a boy wizard, David Yates — who took over the series at Book Five, HP and the Order of the Phoenix, when the series takes a considerably darker turn, and has kept on directing since — is my favorite.
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The Kids Are All About Oscar Picks

David and I were talking about the latest Gurus chart, and I made the (half-joking) observation that we should do kind of an anti-Gurus chart of my kids’ random Oscar picks. In the past when I’ve had them choose Oscar winners with random methods including Magic-8 Ball, Twister, Guitar Hero, and “Pin the Oscar on the Donkey’s Butt” they’ve averaged just about as well as folks paid to pontificate on the politics of Oscar Night. Plus, they’ve had a lot of fun doing it.

It just goes to show you, no one really knows anything, maybe not even the people being paid to know about things.

There have been some occasionally heated discussions here and on The Hot Blog about film critics and what “qualifies” someone to write about film. Generally, for what it’s worth, I think having a broad knowledge of film, a passion for movies, and the ability to write about why you like or don’t like a given film in a coherent way that connects with your readership qualifies someone to write about movies, though this is not necessarily the same thing as more purely academic film criticism.

As to what qualifies someone to be or not to be an Oscar pundit, well, that depends, I think, on what you’re looking for. Random guesses abound on the internet, and once you get it down to a Top Ten or so, pretty much anyone who works in any aspect of this business is entitled to offer a qualified opinion on which films or actors they think should win. Understanding the politics involved behind the scenes may be a little more tricksy, but if you’ve kept up at all with the recent history of Oscar winners it’s not terribly difficult for the average person to make educated guesses that are as accurate as (maybe better than) those of the experts.

In the spirit of “the average folks” versus “the experts,” I asked my kids (plus one friend) to give me their early weigh-in on their Best Picture pick based on the Top Ten on the Gurus chart, based on the titles alone if they didn’t know anything else. (For the record, Neve has seen The Social Network and Inception, and all of them have seen Toy Story 3). I also asked them to weigh in on which film had the worst title.

Their not-so-expert opinions are below. I’ll check in with them closer to Oscars for their picks in the major categories. If you have ideas on how they should make their picks this year, let me know.



BEST PICTURE PICK: I think Toy Story 3 will win because I really like it. It was kind of sad, but some parts were funny, and it had a really good story. And I think they’re gonna make a Toy Story 4.

WORST TITLE: I think 127 Hours is a really bad name for a movie because no one wants to watch a movie that’s that long. That sounds like a really, really, really long movie. And boring.



BEST PICTURE PICK: Toy Story 3, because it was really good and sad and it had great animation and stuff. And great characters like Woody and Buzz.

WORST TITLE: The King’s Speech. Boring. I think it’s about a guy standing there who’s giving a boring speech to try to put everyone to sleep so he can steal the town’s rarest thing.



BEST PICTURE PICK: Toy Story 3, because it had really good animation and also it had a really good story behind it.

WORST TITLE: The King’s Speech sounds like a guy standing on a big platform just speaking for two hours. Boring.



BEST PICTURE PICK: Either True Grit or Inception. Inception because I thought it was very interesting and I liked all the plot twists and how you had to pay attention to every thing or you’d be lost. And True Grit because I loved the trailer and I read the summary and it looks really interesting. No Country for Old Men terrified me, but I appreciated its artistry, so I think this one will be good.

WORST TITLE: The King’s Speech. The title sounds boring, because who wants to see a movie that’s about some guy’s speech? A good title is everything, right? If it’s bad, and people think it sounds boring, no one will come see it. See, this is why I get Veda to help me with my titles for my writing.



BEST PICTURE PICK: The name Inception really grabs me. It sounds very dramatic. I also like the sound of Black Swan. That sounds interesting, too.

WORST TITLE: I concur on The King’s Speech. It just sounds really boring. Maybe it’s not, it might be a really good movie, but that’s how it sounds.

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Review: Megamind

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: You don’t really need to pay the premium to see Megamind in 3-D. It’s a sharp, nice looking film as it is, but I didn’t find the 3-D elements, though relatively seamless and painless, to be anything I couldn’t live without.
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I Didn’t See the Devil at AFI Fest

I’ve been a bit buried the past couple days, so just getting around to noticing that one of my favorite films at Torono, Kim Jee-Woon’s I Saw the Devil, has been pulled from the upcoming AFI Fest. This is a real bummer for LA folks who didn’t catch the film at TIFF.

Film Threat followed up on the official, rather ambiguous statement about the film being pulled, and got back basically “Sorry, no comment,” other than a clarification that the film was pulled by the film’s reps and not the fest.

I Saw the Devil is excellently directed — one of the best-directed films I caught in a very solid year at TIFF — and I’m sorry to hear it won’t be playing for LA audiences at AFI Fest. Here’s my review of the film from TIFF.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon